Thursday, 25 July 2013

Possibly biting off more than I can chew

Having finally come up with an idea to make it work we started tackling the spare 'oom the other day. More specifics at a later date as it is in a bit of a mid way phase at the moment. One of the biggest changes I came up with to get rid of the wardrobe (guests only need a hook on the back of the door really)  and put a nice comfy chair with some books in the newly created space.

Hunting down the perfect armchair  proved out of our budget. "I know!" I thought merrily. "I'll just buy a lovely old chair and re-upholster it. I've looked online. It looks easy."

This was how we ended up with this:

At 99p on eBay this fitted into our budget. Just got to re-cover it is easy isn't it? I have an armchair to re-cover, a load of online lessons and a rather optimistic amount of willpower.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Tackling the cutlery drawer conversion project

Having been foolish enough to go to a boot fair just before going on holiday and lugged back a project to do I resolved that it was time to tackle it. Quite apart from anything else it was making the place look untidy. Few things look worse than a half done DIY project.

So! Sanding first. The intent was to just take the top layer of grime off with a fine grade sandpaper so I could keep the patina. Unfortunately the gunge left on the drawers from the weird fake wood plastic veneer meant that I had no choice but to go for a proper sanding job. I was less hardcore on the rest of the chest but needed to take enough layers off to make the colour of the wood blend together nicely.

Sanding done it was time for the magic that is Briwax to go on. Ooh it came up luvverly!

However the insides of the drawers were still a bit of a mess. The glue that held the fitted interior was tough and was not budging. After several hours of scraping and sanding I accepted that the bottom of the drawers were never going to look great and I was better off giving them a pretty lining and hiding the mess.

 But what lining? Oh so many choices of lovely wrapping paper, some astonishingly expensive. In the end I went for this one from Judd street Papers. I thought the 30's feel would work well with style of the drawers and the yellow would blend nicely with the colour of the oak.

At £2.20 per sheet it was a little more expensive than I wanted but as the drawers only cost £7.50 I thought I could stretch to it. (This got slight more expensive when I realised I had stuck one sheet the wrong way up.)

I was going to show you this 'bloggified' photo pretending that my life is fabulously stylish.

In reality though the printer has to sit on top of the drawers as there is nowhere else for it to go and artfully placed bits and bobs would drive me mad every time I used the printer or opened the drawers. So instead here is how it has improved life in a very ugly corner.

I am truly thrilled to have got all those papers hidden away. I do not claim to be a neatness obsessive but surface level tidy makes me feel very happy. Just don't open the drawers.....

Being brutally honest I  am 50/50 about the success of this. I am really pleased with how the outside has come up but the insides of the drawers are less than perfect. I just couldn't stop the paper from going crinkly from the PVA glue. It didn't matter whether I left the glue to get tacky, put a thick coat or a thin coat. Solutions on a postcard please. Fortunately the drawers are pretty full already so nobody will see much wrinkle.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Pepper, onion and goats cheese tart

On a gloriously hot weekend with the in-laws in town what else could we do but have a picnic in the park. Aside from the aforementioned picnic blanket, we packed: lemonadesmokedsalmonandcreamcheesesandwichesstrawberriessaladwhitewinesconesclottedcreamjamanda pepperonionandgoatscheesetart.

If I say so myself the pepper, onion and goats cheese tart was a thrown together marvel. I will admit that I attempted to make Delia's Flaky Pastry but messed it up by using bread flour. (It's not the same as plain flour which I knew but did it anyway.)

Two peppers - I went for one red and one yellow
4 onions - I used white but red onions would also work
Teaspoon of sugar
125g Goats cheese
Puff pastry - ready made due to to flaky pastry disaster!
Salt and pepper

1. Chop the peppers into long strips and put in the oven on a high heat with a drizzle of oil and balsamic. Cook till soft and put aside to cool.
2. Caramelise the onions. Peel and roughly slice the onions and place in a nonstick saucepan on a low heat with a drizzle of oil. Put a lid on the saucepan and keep an eye on them from time to time giving it all a bit of a stir. When the onions are very soft and brown indeed, practically mush, add a teaspoon of sugar and stir gently till it is dissolved. Leave to cool.

Top Tip: Do these two stages the night before while cooking dinner.

3. Preheat the oven to 200C. Take your sheet of pastry and decide what shape you want  the tart to be. I wanted a round one so used a loose bottomed flan tin as a cutter. Grease the tin or tray you are going to cook it in and put the pastry in.
4. Spread the onions onto the pastry then put the peppers on top, sprinkle the goats cheese all over with a bit of seasoning. When adding the topping leave a 1.5cm ring of pastry at edges which can be brushed with egg to give a finished look.
5. Put in the oven for 15-20 minutes till golden brown.

I left the tart in the flan tin to keep it all together in transit. Served with plenty of sun and lemonade it would be hard to be more summery.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Mint and Wasabi Potato Salad

Back in days of yore I was an actor. In one, rather good, production we had an actors nightmare of dinner on stage. Eating on stage is no fun at all. The challenge is attempting to look natural while also trying to avoid having a mouthful of food at the same time as a line. Oh and just to make life fun you will have a maximum of five minutes in which to eat the full meal and you do have to eat enough to look like you meant it. Oh and you rarely get food to practice with until the dress rehearsal.

This particular play had dinner in the pre-interval scene. Our lovely stage manger provided this potato salad for us to eat. It was so good that all the actors would wait in the wings listening for the audience to be ushered out before descending on the table to polish off the remains in a frankly unladylike manner.

Having got the recipe out of the stage manager this is a staple for just about every party I hold. Incredibly easy and quick to make with just a very little kick from the wasabi.

Potatoes! I like to use really small baby new potatoes so I don't have to chop them in half. As the photo indicates this rarely happens.
Chopped mint
Salt and pepper

1. Boil the potatoes till they are cooked and leave to cool.

Top Tip: Wait till they are really cool. The mayonnaise goes a bit weird if the potatoes are warm. You can speed the process up a bit by running the cold tap over them.

2. Put a dollop of mayonnaise and a small squeeze of wasabi in with the potatoes and mix it in gently with your hand. You are aiming for a light coverage. Have a taste to see if it needs more wasabi and add if needed/wanted.
3. Add the chopped mint, salt and pepper and mix in thoroughly.

Put in a pretty bowl and wash your mayonnaisey hands.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Is there a perfect bicycle out there?

The short answer is no! However this does not stop me trying to find one. I have just been forced to admit that my Dawes Diploma bike has got to the point that to fix all the minor issues (myself) will cost more than getting a less beaten up secondhand model. It was in such a bad way that I worked out I would save more money by dissecting it for the handy bits than trying to sell it at a whole.

So what do I really need in a bicycle? I cycle to and fro from work and when it is just too lazy to take the car. For me it's primarily about saving pennies on public transport. This is not to say that I don't like the exercise and the thinking time it gives me for an hour and half each day. Suffice to say that am not looking for a 'cyclists' bike.

I like an old fashioned Sit up and Beg bike. Yes this partly aesthetics and a vague sense of being Miss Marple. However my main argument for the sit up and beg cycle is the posture. We spend hours each day hunched over computers, mobiles, ipads, books. Looking down is becoming so ubiquitous that we are all at risk of being permanently hunched over in old age. Having a bike that forces you to look up and sit up goes a little way to counteracting this.

Margaret is being silly here and has her handlebars too low.

I like a basic bike. I'm quite a handy person so want to be able to fix my bike when it goes wrong. Too many frivolous bits and bobs and I'll have to pay somebody to sort it out.

I like a big bike. I know this is flying against the trend for nifty light bikes but I would argue that a big heavy bike is great for two reasons.
1. It makes the cyclist larger and more visible to cars. I like being seen.
2. It makes the cyclist work harder. As this is my main form of exercise I consider this to be a good thing.

You are probably assuming that I have bought a pretty Pashley. They are great bikes and I did have a 2nd hand one once but they became fashionable and it became the only bike I have ever had nicked. So I like a cheap bike. My old Dawes cycle was a rarity in that I bought it brand new. Having spent £350 I then had to spend another £50 on insuring the thing. (I also never really liked it. Not sure why; it just didn't feel right.) A decent 2nd hand bike is the way forward.

This time I have gone for a second hand Dutchie. It is VAST! At least a foot longer than the Dawes. It's rather like the cycling equivalent of  a black cab. Nice and basic to fix and aesthetically fabulous. A bit too continental for Miss. Marple but rather chic nonetheless. (I should add that I always wear a helmet. Aesthetics are great but being alive with all my bits in place is better.)

So is it perfect? Of course not! It is pretty good though.
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